One in 10 children in Massachusetts struggle with hunger1 and for some children, the meals they receive at school may be the only meals they eat each day. When a child is hungry, it can have a major impact on their ability to learn and on their overall health.
Curbing hunger in students starts with providing a balanced breakfast. Many schools offer breakfast to students, but many students throughout the state may still miss their morning meal, regardless of socioeconomic status, because of how and when breakfast is offered.2 Barriers such as late drop off, lack of knowledge about the program, limited time for socialization and stigma around school breakfast often lead students to miss out on breakfast if it is offered in the cafeteria before school.2
By implementing a breakfast after the bell program, schools can instead make breakfast a part of the school day and eliminate some of these barriers to help ensure students are well fed and ready to learn.
Breakfast After the Bell Models2
There are many ways schools can provide Breakfast After the Bell to students.
Breakfast in the Classroom
Breakfast in the classroom allows students to eat breakfast in the classroom after the school day begins. Breakfast can be delivered to the classrooms in coolers or insulated bags, or it can be served from mobile carts in the hallways. The type of breakfast service typically takes about 15 minutes.
Grab-and-Go breakfast allows students to pick up their breakfast from mobile service carts on the way to their classroom. They can then eat their breakfast in the classroom or other common area after the bell rings. Carts should be placed in high traffic areas such as hallways, entryways or cafeterias.
Second-chance breakfast allows students to eat breakfast during a break or passing period, typically after first period or midway between breakfast and lunch. This model can be especially helpful for students who may not be hungry first thing in the morning.
Benefits of Breakfast After the Bell
More Students Eat Breakfast2
When schools serve breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go breakfast or second chance breakfast, they see a higher number of students eating breakfast; 88% of students, 64% of students and 70% of students, respectively. This is a notably higher number than the 50% of students who eat breakfast when it is served in the cafeteria before school.
Improved Academic Performance3
Studies show that children who eat breakfast at school are able to perform better in the classroom and on standardized tests. Students who experience hunger have been found to have lower math scores, poorer grades, and are more likely to repeat a grade.
Reduced Behavioral Problems3
Children who eat breakfast at school are less likely to be disruptive in class. Studies show decreases in behavioral and psychological problems and lower rates of absence and tardiness in students who participate in school breakfast.
Improved Health Status4
Students who eat breakfast at school reap the following health benefits:
- Improved dietary intake
- Decreased risk of food insecurity
- Reduced risk of childhood obesity
- Reduced risk of negative health outcomes, including high cholesterol and insulin levels
- Reduced risk of health-compromising behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol use, physical inactivity, disordered eating and unhealthy weight management practices
- Less visits to the school nurse
- Reductions in anxiety and depression
Breakfast After the Bell Regulations
Can breakfast count as learning time for students?
As of 2015, breakfast in the classroom can now count as time on learning if it meets the following conditions:5
- The students must be in a classroom or other separate space conducive to learning (not in the cafeteria or other common space shared with other classes)
- A teacher must be present and actively leading instructional activities
- No more than fifteen minutes should be allotted for distribution of the breakfast, eating and cleanup
Find out more about this legislation by reviewing the 2015 Policy Guidance on “Breakfast in the Classroom” and Student Learning Time.
Looking for activities to do during breakfast in the classroom?
Does my school need to offer breakfast after the bell?
Beginning in School Year 2022 , all public K-12 schools where 60% or more students are eligible for free or reduced price meals must offer breakfast after the start of the school day. Schools have the option of how they will provide breakfast: breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go options, or second-chance breakfast.6
Are the meals healthy?
Breakfast After the Bell programs must adhere to the National School Breakfast Program (SBP) nutrition guidelines which align with USDA nutrition recommendations. As part of the SBP meal pattern requirements, schools are required to serve certain food items as part of each breakfast meal. This includes:7
- 1 cup of fruit
- 2 ounces of grains (half of which need to be whole grain)
- 1 cup of milk (either fat-free or low-fat flavored or unflavored milk)
Meat or meat alternatives may be served in place of a grain, as long as a grain product is also served. Vegetables may be served in place of fruits.
It is important to note that although you may see many familiar and popular food items offered in school breakfast meals, the items served in schools need to meet strict USDA standards and are created with less sugar, sodium, saturated fat and/or more whole grains than their grocery store counterparts.
Benefits of School Breakfast, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
Promoting Your Breakfast Program, Child Nutrition Outreach Program (CNOP)
Tips & Resources for Breakfast in the Classroom, Action for Healthy Kids
- Hunger in Massachusetts. Feeding America Website. https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/massachusetts#:~:text=In%20Massachusetts%2C%20617%2C380%20people%20are,of%20them%20138%2C760%20are%20children.&text=1%20in%2010%20children%20struggles,to%20meet%20their%20food%20needs. Accessed April 23, 2021.
- Frequently asked questions by educators about school breakfast. No Kid Hungry Massachusetts website. https://state.nokidhungry.org/massachusetts/karmic_resources/educators-faqs-about-breakfast-after-the-bell-2/. Accessed April 23, 2021.
- Benefits of school breakfast. Food Research & Action Center website. https://frac.org/programs/school-breakfast-program/benefits-school-breakfast. Accessed April 23, 2021.
- Food Research & Action Center. Research brief: breakfast for health.https://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/breakfastforhealth-1.pdf. Published October 2016. Accessed April 23, 2021.
- Policy Guidance on “Breakfast in the Classroom” and Student Learning Requirements. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website. https://www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=16759. Published February 12, 2015. Accessed April 23, 2021.
- DiDomenico SN, Brownsberger WN, Feeney PR, Crocker WL. An act regarding breakfast after the bell. The General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 2019. Available at: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S267
- Federal Nutrition Standards for School Meals. Child Nutrition Outreach Program website. https://meals4kids.org/federal-nutrition-standards-school-meals. Accessed April 23, 2021.